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Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does, even down to how he butters his toast. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning the mail arrives, and within the stack of quotidian minutiae is a letter addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl from a woman he hasn't seen or heard from in 20 years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye.
Harold pens a quick reply and, leaving Maureen to her chores, heads to the corner mailbox. But then, as happens in the very best works of fiction, Harold has a chance encounter, one that convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. And thus begins the unlikely pilgrimage at the heart of Rachel Joyce's remarkable debut. Harold Fry is determined to walk 600 miles from Kingsbridge to the hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed because, he believes, as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live.
Still in his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold embarks on his urgent quest across the countryside. Along the way he meets one fascinating character after another, each of whom unlocks his long-dormant spirit and sense of promise. Memories of his first dance with Maureen, his wedding day, his joy in fatherhood, come rushing back to him - allowing him to also reconcile the losses and the regrets. As for Maureen, she finds herself missing Harold for the first time in years.
And then there is the unfinished business with Queenie Hennessy.
A novel of unsentimental charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces Rachel Joyce as a wise - and utterly irresistible - storyteller.
This is a lovely tale of an ordinary man setting off on a pilgrimage to visit an old friend who is dying. Harold believes as long as he walks, Queenie Hennessey will live. Without proper shoes, a map, or any plausible plan, he embarks on this journey. In a rut for the past 20 years, Harold is like a hamster jumping off the wheel, taking a new direction. He searches the recesses of his mind exploring his passionless marriage; history with his son; and his relationship with Queenie. Along the way, he encounters numerous people who both help and exploit his trek. Nothing is obvious or predictable.
You'll want to take your time with this one to appreciate the language and turn of phrase. One of my many favorite parts was the line, "Harold stopped measuring his journey in miles, but in remembering." The entire book was simply lovely and causes a bit of soul searching for the reader. Didn't rush through this one, savored all the text, and am a little wiser from the listening.
113 of 119 people found this review helpful
After the first chapter I really did not expect to like this book. The writing was simple, straightforward British with limited vocabulary and somewhat restrained characters, such is not generally my cup of tea. Yet the more I listened the more I wanted to go on.
Very slowly the proverbial stiff upper lip becomes lost in a journey of self revelation. While remaining very ordinary, the story becomes extraordinary. This does not wallow in faith or religion, instead it examines memory and the stories we tell ourselves and those we don’t.
By the end I laughed and teared up several times. The end of the story stuck with me and for the next day or two I wished I was still reading this story. The narration was excellent, imbibing a lot of emotion into the story. I have not set in the car to finish a chapter in a long time, but I did that a couple of times with this book. Highly recommended.
51 of 57 people found this review helpful
"...and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." - Hebrews 11:13
This novel reads like an inverted bildungsroman. It is a novel about the pilgrimages we all must take later in life and the penance that we all must finally pay. That indeed sounds like a dreary novel, but with Joyce's talent for prose and pacing this novel absolutely flows with funky characters and breathes with a gentle humor. For me, it was like I was reading a great novel by Peter Carey, or David Mitchell or Brady Udall. Those are the peers that she belongs with. The story of Harold Fry's pilgrimage is beautiful and the characters are vivid. Ultimately the book, like a soft hymn sings that we are all important to the people we come in contact with, no matter how simple and ordinary we may at first appear.
Jim Broadbent reads this novel with a nuance, liveliness, and sensitivity that one rarely find outside the theatre. One of the best narrations I've EVER listened to.
122 of 138 people found this review helpful
I have read one review making the inevitable comparison to Forrest Gump's long run, and I confess that I had made that same connection. But while we could never really access Gump's inner world during his unplanned journey, we do get to travel intimately with Harold Fry, and that makes all the difference. From the beginning, when he is moved to tears by Queenie's letter saying goodbye, we realize that there is a much deeper story here than mere sadness over an old friend's illness. There are dark, secret waters flowing through Harold's memory, and that river sweeps him onto the road of self discovery with the reader in tow. Through the author's direct and deceptively simple language we connect with Harold's character and find a much more complex person than any of his own acquaintances would have suspected.
We also encounter a wider cast of characters, some major (wife Maureen), many minor, but through these encounters we learn more about Harold, and he about himself. When he is at his most alone and despairing point, I found connection to a different Tom Hanks role - Cast Away, especially when things he held precious on his journey were lost - as Hanks lost his WIlson. I could feel his spirit draining away.
The author has created a uniquely clear-eyed tone - poignant without sentiment, tragic (in places) without melodrama, and humor without comedy. Read with utter believability by Jim Broadbent, we grow to love most of the characters, even some of the apparently insignificant ones. This is a journey in the most common sense - one footstep after another. It is not an adventure. Readers who strain for the destination, impatient for journey's end will not get it. Those who arrive with Harold will be well rewarded.
31 of 35 people found this review helpful
I hesitated on this purchase because of its popularity (often I don't go for what everyone else raves about); also some of the negative reviews made me wonder. I was afraid it would be a hit-you-over-the-head-with-a-hammer tearjerker. I'm really picky: picky about good writing and extraordinarily picky about narration. I simply loved this book, and the reader was superb. Jim Broadbent strikes the perfect tone with the narration and his characterization of Harold. It is a beautiful story, read so tenderly, and I'm so glad I took a chance on it. I certainly hope Jim Broadbent does more audiobooks.
29 of 33 people found this review helpful
Would you listen to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry again? Why?
Yes. 'The Pilgrimage' is fiction at its best: everything about the characters and story connects and rings true. The language is lyrical but never flowery or sentimental.
Who was your favorite character and why?
The story could not exist without each and every character - no particular favorite.
What about Jim Broadbent’s performance did you like?
His narration is flawless. Broadbent has the chops and humility to keep it simple at let the story shine.
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
I can't remember the last time a book (or movie) made me cry but this story elicited a surge of joy, gratitude, and amazement at the goodness that comes from 'little lives' well lived. I listened to the penultimate section standing completely still at the kitchen counter. The language so beautiful, so perfect - literally stopped me in my tracks.
Any additional comments?
I am normally quite careful to avoid selections that may be sad or maudlin since I skew a bit melancholy anyway ( I shall NEVER EVER read 'Marley and Me', for example) but this book broke my heart in the best possible way. Each character displays nobility and frailty while their story is told. The plot itself is intriguing as each character's perceptions bring more understanding to "the facts." Granted, I am writing this while still under the spell of the book, but I loved 'The Pilgrimage' as much as the book of Chekhov's short stories I've been reading this summer. I highly recommend this title for one and all.
52 of 60 people found this review helpful
i realize i am in the minority here, but i would not give this book 5 stars. the first 3/4 of the book was very good ... insightful, sweet and paced just right. i can't say the same for the last part. i wouldn't characterize mr. fry's walk as a spiritual journey, as some seem to ... i'd say more an education in human nature and self awareness. the narration is excellent.
16 of 18 people found this review helpful
What did you love best about The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry?
I tend to avoid stories that I know will make me cry, but this one had such a great premise that I listened to it anyway. Who hasn't taken a walk or driven down a road and felt the urge to just keep going? I know I have. This story did make me cry, as I expected it would, but it was just lighthearted and oddball enough to keep me smiling as well.
26 of 30 people found this review helpful
What a delightful surprise to run onto this book! It will always be one of my favorites.
As Harold sets out on a walk of 600 miles to visit an old friend who is dying, he is totally unaware of what this journey will teach him about himself, his relationship with his friend and with is wife and son. It is a bittersweet story, but a story about personal growth, even late in life. I adore it. It is the kind of book I hope for every time I start a new one, but rarely find. I put it up there with "Water for Elephants."
14 of 16 people found this review helpful
in an ordinary way."
...so Joyce describes her own book, a story she was originally writting for a BBC radio broadcast, while experiencing her own father suffering from cancer. [And in about a month from this review, the author will find out whether or not Harold Fry will continue his journey from the Man Booker long 12 to the Man Booker Short List.] Joyce obviously is a very talented writer. She has a sparse style and the ability to write descriptive and poetic sentences with simple ordinary words that have an almost child-like purity. Whether or not the book is short-listed, I expect to see many beautiful reads from this new author.
"It seemed to Harold that he had been waiting all his life to walk. He no longer knew how far he had come, but only that he was going forward."
As reviewers have said, this is beautifuly written and the journey the listener embarks on with the very buttoned-up Harold is both heart warming and heart wrenching. I see the brilliance in Harold Fry, but have to admit it wasn't one that I couldn't wait to get back to each time I had to pause; I didn't look forward to continuing the journey--it was somber. But, maybe that was the brilliance -- that it made me feel so sad and ache-y inside, so much like Harold. The characters that join in the pilgrimage add some levity, but seem to serve more as vehicles just to move along Harold's melancholic reminiscing. I'm glad I finished and I recommend, but this isn't a story for everyone. I couldn't help but be moved by "Night Music's" review; she mentioned that she was an elderly woman and found that "looking back can be very disheartening," and she couldn't finish listening. I wish I could tell her to continue the journey--there is redemption. Towards the end, Harold questions whether his journey was just folley and gets this simply put lovely reply,
"You got up and you did something. And if trying to find a way when you don't even know if you can get there isn't a small miracle; then I don't know what is."
Lovely and bittersweet; not ordinary at all.
55 of 66 people found this review helpful